Oscar will be on many people's minds this weekend, including the various filmmakers behind the five short documentaries vying for the gold statuette. But the importance of these diverse entries goes beyond any award. You can feel it in the vitality of the stories and the urgency of their themes.
All five will be screened in San Diego as part of the Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014—Documentary program, which opens Friday, Feb. 28, at the Ken Cinema.
The Lady in Number 6 is a lovely and striking portrait of Alice Sommer, a remarkable woman who still plays the piano daily at age 109. She's also the world's oldest Holocaust survivor. The film melds past and present, trauma and joy in an almost seamless way to explore the complicated nature of memory and forgiveness.
Another short that addresses the lingering presence of violence and necessity of reconciliation is Facing Fear, which documents the incalculably strange relationship between Jason Boger and Timothy Zaal, victim and perpetrator of a hate crime in the 1980s who meet two decades later by accident. While not revolutionary, it does provide a balanced account of a devastating moment that sent two angry young men down different paths.
Harrowing in a different way, Karama Has No Walls uses found footage and interviews to construct the terrifying events that occurred in Sana'a, Yemen, in early 2011 and helped spur the Arab Spring. After gathering in Change Square and peacefully rallying against the government's longstanding autocratic rule, protesters were fired upon by security forces and politically motivated militia groups, leaving more than 50 dead. Only the sobering tears of fathers recounting their final conversations with their deceased sons match the immediacy of the images.
Also included in the program are Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall and CaveDigger.
Oscar-Nominated Short Documentaries: See all five of the films nominated in the Short Documentary category before the Academy Awards airs on Sunday, March 2. Screens at the Ken Cinema.
Bicycle Film Festival: Bicycle-themed short films will screen during this two-day festival, Feb. 28 and March 1, amid other activities.
Hidden Moon: In this romantic comedy from Mexico, a beautiful woman (Ana Serradilla) makes a dramatic appearance at the funeral of a wealthy Southern California patriarch, forcing his son (Wes Bentley) to travel south of the border to investigate. Screens through March 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Jimmy P: Benicio del Toro stars as Jimmy Picard, a Native American Blackfoot who’s diagnosed as a schizophrenic by his military doctors. When a French anthropologist (Mathieu Amalric) is called in to begin psychotherapy sessions with Jimmy, the two men forge a bond that allows them both to heal. Screens through March 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Non-Stop: Liam Neeson’s seasoned air marshal deals with a series of mysterious threats aboard a transatlantic flight.
Son of God: Jesus, another biopic.
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago: Documentary that follows the stories of various pilgrims as they attempt to cross Chile on foot. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Welcome to Yesterday: Yet another found-footage film, this time involving a group of teens who construct a time machine and make the mistake of using it.
One time only
In a World…: Lake Bell wrote, directed and stars in this indie film about a voice-over coach who finds herself competing against her arrogant father for a movie-trailer gig. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Mission Valley Public Library.
American Winter: Documentary about the economic disparity in modern America, specifically the divide between those who suffer daily due to a lack of basic necessities and those who live oblivious to these realities. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Women’s Museum of California in Point Loma’s Liberty Station.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: Kate Hudson was once a big star. Movies like this prove why she isn’t anymore. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: The film that spawned the PG-13 rating is also one of Steven Spielberg’s most maligned films. But how can you hate a film that has a character named Short Round and a dinner scene with monkey brains? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26 at Arclight La Jolla.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons: Brilliant genre filmmaker Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) returns with another revisionist tale of the Chinese epic with demon hunters, ghouls and plenty of high-octane hilarity. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at the UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas at Hazard Center.
Gravity: Sandra Bullock gets lost in space in Alfonso Cuarón’s thrilling big-budget adventure film. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, and Saturday, March 1, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Almost Human: The supernatural disappearance of a young man leads to a string of grisly murders and the awakening of an evil spirit. Screens at 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, and Saturday, March 1, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Garageland: Local filmmaker Eric Rife’s documentary takes viewers on a tour of San Diego’s underground punk-rock scene from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 3, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Circles: A single tragedy affects five people in different ways, leading each down a road of self-discovery. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the Point Loma Public Library.
Honor Diaries: Gender equality is the goal of this documentary featuring interviews with nine human-rights advocates who discuss the problems plaguing women in Muslim-majority societies. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the USD Peace and Justice Theatre.
Bottle Rocket: Wes Anderson’s debut film introduced the world to Luke and Owen Wilson as two parts of a robbing trio attempting to pull off one last job. Screens at 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Tommy Boy: The genius of Chris Farley is readily apparent in this, his feature film debut about a man-child who must save his father’s auto parts store by going on a Midwest sales trip with a nebbish associate (David Spade). Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Rushmore: Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fisher roams the hallways of Rushmore preparatory school looking for distractions from life’s painful realities. Wes Anderson’s sophomore feature is a hilarious and resonant portrait of misguided brilliance. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Aftermath: Two Polish brothers attempt to reveal a conspiracy among the residents of their small village, where their Jewish neighbors were massacred during World War II. Ends Feb. 27 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Barefoot: The outcast of a wealthy family befriends a psychiatric patient who was raised in isolation her entire life and decides it’s a good idea to take her home to Mom and Dad. Hilarity ensues. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
In Secret: Set in 1860s Paris, this intense melodrama stars Elizabeth Olson as a sexually repressed young woman trapped in a loveless marriage who finds hope in an illicit affair with a family friend.
Pompeii: Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson sets his sights on the city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. for his latest muscle-bound action epic in 3D.
Omar: Adam Bakri shines in this complex, Oscar-nominated thriller from Palestine about a young man caught in a web of deception in the West Bank.
Three Days to Kill: CIA agent Kevin Costner’s got—you guessed it: three days to kill his last target or his innocent daughter will die.
Tim’s Vermeer: Tim Jenison is a mad inventor who’s become obsessed with Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s verisimilitude. In this documentary from Penn & Teller, he decides to embark on a multiyear journey to prove that Vermeer used optics to paint such lifelike paintings.
The Wind Rises: Reportedly director Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, this glorious animated biopic about Jiro Horokoshi examines one man’s perilous tunnel vision as he designs war planes for the Japanese government during World War II.
About Last Night: Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy play best friends grappling with the highs and lows of new romantic relationships. Another romantic comedy just in time for Valentine’s Day that will make single people cringe with disgust.
Endless Love: A pampered and isolated rich girl falls in love with a humble valet in this heated romance that’s destined to make The Notebook seem sober and realistic. Nicholas Sparks may even roll his eyes at all the slushy swooning.
Girl on the Bicycle: An Italian tour guide in Paris is set to propose to his true love, a German stewardess, when he meets a French beauty who threatens to ruin it all. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Robocop: It’s hard to believe Hollywood had the gall to remake Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece, but there’s confidence to be had knowing Brazilian action filmmaker Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) is at the helm. Crossing our trigger fingers.
Winter’s Tale: Based on Mark Helprin’s popular novel, director Akiva Goldsman’s adaptation follows a burglar (Colin Farrell) who falls in love with an heiress as she dies in his arms. Good thing he has the power of reincarnation.
The Lego Movie: That movie adaptation based on a classic toy set you knew was always coming but didn’t think would actually get made. Well, it did, and it’s here.
The Monuments Men: A museum art historian (George Clooney) recruits a platoon of unlikely soldiers to rescue art masterpieces from the Nazis. Co-stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman.
Gloria: Paulina García plays a divorcée attempting to stay vital despite the rapid changes happening in her children’s lives. When Gloria meets an older man who’s still seriously connected with his ex-wife and family, she’s thrust into a potentially heart-breaking scenario. Ends Feb. 27 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Labor Day: An escaped convict (Josh Brolin) holes up with a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old boy during a long weekend in Jason Reitman’s romantic drama.
Oscar Nominated Shorts: See the films in the category no one ever guesses right: Live-action and animated short films nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
That Awkward Moment: When a friend is devastated by a recent breakup, three young men (Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) vow to stay single for as long as possible. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, things don’t go according to plan.
The Great Beauty: A disillusioned novelist traverses modern Rome looking for epiphany in Paolo Sorrentino’s gorgeous and surreal art film, which is a testament to physical surfaces and emotional depth.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Tom Clancy’s favorite CIA analyst turned action hero gets his very own origin story, which involves a Russian plot to take down the U.S. economy. Chris Pine assumes the role made famous by Harrison Ford and denigrated by Ben Affleck.
The Nut Job: No nuts, no glory. So goes the tagline for this animated film about an outcast park rodent who must survive the harsh realities of the city after being banished from the park. It was only a matter of time before the squirrel population was properly represented in Hollywood.
Ride Along: Has Kevin Hart fatigue set in yet? The pervasive comedian stars in this action comedy with Ice Cube playing an angry cop and his future brother-in-law out to test his masculinity.
August: Osage County: A dysfunctional Texas family reunites when its troubled patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, uncovering a barrage of dark secrets and regrets. It’s based on the play by Tracy Letts and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper.
Her: A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s tender and moving sci-fi romance.
Lone Survivor: Four Navy SEALs are behind enemy lines in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an army of Taliban insurgents. It’s based on the failed Operation Red Wings of June 2005 and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese’s sprawling comedic look at the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who became an infamous figure in New York City in the 1990s.
American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O’Russell’s retelling of the infamous Abscam sting established by the FBI in order to capture corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late 1970s.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), please meet Smaug, fire-breathing dragon and protector of all things gold. Have a nice three hours together.
Nebraska: Aged retiree Woody (Bruce Dern) is determined to collect his winnings after receiving a phony sweepstakes letter, eventually dragging his reluctant son (Will Forte) on a road trip that’ll change both of their lives. Alexander Payne’s latest is a melancholic ode to family and the Midwest.
Philomena: Comedian Steve Coogan takes on a more serious role as a cynical journalist who ends up helping an elderly woman (Judi Dench) search for her long lost son. Oscar nominations are a certainty.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
12 Years a Slave: Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen’s stirring period-piece drama.
Hubble: Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this journey into space allows the viewer to experience what it’s like aboard the famous telescope while also giving a history of its legacy. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.